It took till the last game of the entire first round, and even at that, it took double overtime. But the New Jersey Devils finally disposed of the Florida Panthers and advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals early Friday morning.

For a franchise with three Stanley Cups and four conference crowns since 1995, and nine division titles since 1996, you would think that sort of feat would be a given.

But it's been a tough few years in the Garden State.

The Devils, in fact, missed the postseason last year for the first time since 1996. They went through two coaches, a miserable start, and in the end, a late rally couldn't stop the streak from folding. The previous three seasons, New Jersey lost in the first round, and since hockey returned after the 2004-05 lockout, New Jersey had won just two series total.

Before last night.

"Winning a playoff series goes a long ways for people," New Jersey goaltender Martin Brodeur said. "It helps with confidence, and the first round — when you've struggled in the first round before — to get through it, it feels pretty good ... for a day.

"Then, we have to go face the Flyers."

Indeed, New Jersey's next opponent will be its neighbor to the south, the rival Philadelphia Flyers, who haven't played since last Sunday, and handled Pittsburgh in six games en route to a Round 1 win.